Over the past decade, the Cleveland Browns not only have struggled in the NFL but have struggled to produce fantasy studs. Over the many years, a player has produced like Duke Johnson last year. Josh Gordon in 2013 who finished as the number one wide receiver overall. So what is different about this iteration of the Browns than past teams? For once in at least a decade the Browns are loaded on offense. In fact, they have players at all four key positions for fantasy that could finish in the top 12 of their respective positions. For this article, I will break down the running backs and wide receivers. What is their upside and downside in fantasy for the 2018 season.
Carlos Hyde returns to the Buckeye state except for this time he’ll be the starter for the Browns not the Ohio State Buckeyes. Hyde has had a good but inconsistent career with the San Francisco 49ers. In his four year career, he has never rushed for 1,000 yards and last year was the first time he has played a full season. He has averaged right around 4.0 yards a carry which is the league average. So how has Hyde finished as a top 15 running back the past two years? It mostly comes from the receiving work he has gotten. Last year was a career high for him as he got 59 receptions for 350 yards. Hyde is by far the most accomplished runner they have on the team right now, and if he can stay healthy should get a fair amount of work behind one of the best offensive lines he’s ever played behind.
Where Hyde will come up short compared to other years is likely in the receiving game. While Kyle Shanahan forced him the ball in San Francisco, he has never shared the backfield with a pass-catching back like Johnson. If he is limited to mostly rushing he could lose a significant amount of value.
Health is Hyde’s biggest factor in 2018 for his fantasy value. Losing some if not most of the receiving work he’s had in previous years will hurt his value. However, he can make it up by scoring in the red zone. As long as he is healthy, Hyde has a chance to finish as a top 15 running back again in 2018.
Johnson is one of all of our favorite Browns players. He finally came through for us in fantasy last year. Johnson was a legit receiving threat out of the backfield last year getting 74 catches for 693 yards and three touchdowns. While he did get some work rushing the ball it was more in a change of pace role behind Isaiah Crowell, while he will likely get some more this year as well Nick Chubb will get more of those looks. I could also see times where he is paired in the backfield with Hyde and then used as more of a slot receiver coming out of the backfield.
Where Duke will likely lose work is rushing behind Hyde. While the Browns may take their time in bringing along Chubb, I would imagine he is going to get a majority of these looks. This shouldn’t hurt Johnson’s value much if at all because it mainly comes from the passing game.
2018 should be another fruitful year for Johnson. While I do think projecting him for another year like last year is a bit unrealistic. Johnson will likely still produce something close to that, especially with a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor who will dump off if nothing is available. Duke will likely take a bit of a step back but should still finish in the top 25 at running back.
Chubb, the explosive rookie for 2018, doesn’t have much fantasy value unless Hyde gets hurt. While Chubb looked somewhat unimpressive early in the preseason he has really looked good in the past two games. While we have never seen Chubb for a full NFL game he had a great career at Georgia before and after his knee injury.
Chubb will likely get some work as more of a change of pace back for Hyde he is worth handcuffing if you own Hyde by owning Chubb. If Hyde stays healthy all year though Chubb will likely have little value. If Hyde goes down I think Chubb can step in and easily finish as a top 15 running back.
Jarvis Landry is the leader of this group as we have all seen from Hard Knocks. His value in Miami has come from his insane amount of catches every year. 110 plus in two years and 80 plus catches in the other two. Landry also had a career high in touchdown catches last year with nine. Taylor may be considered the best quarterback Landry has ever played with which should help bolster and maintain his fantasy value in Cleveland.
What could hurt Landry here is he likely won’t be the focal point of the offense like he was in Miami. He was by far the best wide receiver on the field and never had a guy like Gordon opposite him. There is also talk about Landry playing more on the outside for the Browns where he has struggled some compared to how much he thrives playing in the slot. Also having a dynamic tight end like David Njoku working in the same area could limit his targets.
If Landry is in the slot having Gordon and Antonio Callaway on the outside is going to free up a lot of room for Landry. Landry thrives in the slot and can easily take a 5-yard pass and turn it into 20 yards, and he will likely continue to do so in Cleveland. He will lose some targets due to the talent around him, Landry will still finish as a top 15 wide receiver this year.
“Flash” Gordon is finally back with the Browns and all of us fantasy and Browns fans couldn’t be more excited. In 2013 after missing two games Gordon still balled out and finished as the number one wide receiver in fantasy with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball. The difference in 2018 is he has Taylor who is not only miles ahead of those two but is known for throwing an accurate deep ball. While Gordon only played five games last year he still looked good and we saw flashes of the old Gordon, as he was missed multiple times by DeShone Kizer on big plays.
Where does Gordon struggle? Well, he has missed all of training camp and has not played in any preseason games. Though he has kept himself in great shape, being in football shape means something completely different. He has already been told he won’t start week one but will get some playing time. How long does he play on the bench before he is moved into a starting role?
Gordon is one of the hardest players to predict in 2018. He has the skill and talent to finish top 5 at the position. However, until we see how much playing time he is going to get we can’t predict him there. Having Landry, Njoku, and Callaway playing with him will help as they won’t be able to completely double cover Gordon every game. Once he is entrenched in a starter role and starts to connect with Taylor, he can quickly move up the wide receiver ranks. For the first time in Cleveland Browns history, they have a chance to have two top 15 wide receivers for fantasy.
Callaway has all the talent in the world and could be the best rookie wide receiver this year if he can keep himself on the field and avoid distractions. He had a good college career until he was suspended for a year due to the same issues he has already had a problem within the NFL. Callaway is the perfect compliment for Gordon and Landry as he can run by people but also contest the ball with defenders.
Callaway is still learning the position and didn’t play competitive football last year due to being suspended. There is no guarantee he sees a lot of playing time this year, but he does have the talent to force himself onto the field if he continues to work hard.
For 2018 Callaway could be a surprise league winner. He is going undrafted in most leagues but could be a top option for Tyrod early and often. Teams will likely key on defending Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry leaving Callaway going up against most teams second or even third corner. If put in good positions by Todd Haley, Callaway has a chance to get open more often than his counterparts meaning he will get the ball over them. He is worth a flyer in the late rounds to see how quickly he develops in this Browns offense.
As always continue to follow Full Press Coverage for all your Cleveland Browns news. If you have any fantasy questions or Browns questions please hit me up on twitter @SportsfanaticMB